professor the idea of building a canal come about? >> the idea was an old one in american history. at least in the u.s. from the mid 19th century onward but even before that, europeans had turned it for centuries. >> always through panel all? >> there was a lot of talk of going in and through nicaragua or mexico, but for a lot of reasons the french seized on the idea of a panel and the united states debated about going to nicaragua but some earthquakes and the fact the french had dons some construction work in panels ;s;ç that a better approach.;ç;s >> when did the french get started, how far did they get and white and a complete? >> the french construction project was a very traumatic.
they faced a lot of problems that was in the early 1880s and went through much of that decade. they faced a lot of problems the united states just because the united states project cleared a few decades later the united states was able to overcome some of the problems the french had faced read >> such as? >> the french didn't have as good of technological development as the u.s. had to read the had much more trouble in terms of disease by the time he and the united states project began in the early 20th century discovers had been made about what caused malaria fever in the united states was able to take action to eradicate those diseases. also the united states made the crucial decision to build a canal rather than the sea level canal. the sea level canal was much more difficult to accomplish.
much more radical digging and structural free creation of the area had to be done for the sea level. so the canal was a brilliant decision. >> how long is the panama can now? >> it's about 40 miles. >> how long would it take to traverse? >> i took a trip through the tunnel several years ago and it is an all-day trip pretty much. the locks slow you down, you wait in line. there are often many ships and then going through the locks take a little bit of time but also it's just the ship goes through the lake that dominates the canal. it's a beautiful journey into was fun to do it on a ship with lots of people pointing out other landmarks but by the end of the day you are tired and you
have seen so much and you are ready for some dinner. >> professor, a lot of the focus when we talk about the panama canal dual president roosevelt and you have a picture of president roosevelt but he's not the picture of your book. >> that's right. he dominates our memory of the canal and for good reasons p4 any other single person played a role in committing the united states into building the canal, left my book doesn't focus on him because i'm interested in looking at the working men and women who built the canal. part of what inspired the book is thinking that the united states was brilliant at creating a triumphant achievement of technology, the leadership of
the roosevelt, the selflessness of the united states. and while i certainly agree that bill was a superb achievement, what i felt have got any raced was the labor that was actually required to build the canal. george washington, the chief engineer for most of the construction in 1907 until was completed in 1914 once wrote years after the tel had been completed he said everyone talks about it has this incredible technological achievement under a breakthrough in medicine, sanitation, he says none of that was actually knew about the canal. what was new about the canal is that we discovered new ways of ruling over men and women and preserving order.
>> what does he mean by that? >> he met the canal where the united states built the canal it was sort of a little country about 65,000 people. people came from all over the world to build the canal from maybe as many as 100 countries, and to keep order over those people to actually make the world so that the canal could be built to give government organizations, and that is what they were the most proud of him he was proud of the engineering and the technology but it was that creating a stable society that seemed most important to him and to do that, he had to develop a lot of strategies,
some of which by today's standards a bit problematic or unsavory. the united states relied on, for example, why does bredesen segregation. it relied on labor's allies, the of police force. i should say something about the racial segregation was interesting because the workers coming from so many different countries from thousands from the u.s. who made up most of the skilled labour force, many more thousands from the west indies, people of african descent from jamaica from barbados, a few thousand from spain come from northern europe, it is a very diverse group and get to the united states structured the force and using a kind of by
racial approach similar to jim crow in the united states. there is a photograph of the west indian work force in the canal and this biracial approach put the u.s. workers on the so-called and the black workers from the west indies were on the silver. life was different for those groups that a lot of what is fascinating is that so many workers didn't quite fit into that black versus white structure for example the spaniards, fascinating group. the u.s. imported 6,000 spaniards to work on the canal thinking they would prod the workers to work harder. in fact they did have a lot of energy but in ways that
complicated life for the other officials. they were classified as non-white or sometimes called referred to as colored or semi white workers. they were excluded from the white hotels and cafeterias, excluded from white dormitories and the spaniards were very angry about that and they mobilized and engaged in anarchist movements. as a labor historian 19 in the archives and interested in moments of tension between the workers and the officials. so you are looking in the archives for evidence of any strikes or anything like that. for a long time i saw nothing about that until finally one day i came upon a big box titled labor disturbances and excitedly i opened the box and it was
filled with spinach disturbances , strikes, lockouts, riots, all sorts of things. >> were their unions for the workers? >> that's a good question. not really. the unions were allowed to exist , but they were not allowed to strike. early in the here's there was a strike of steam shovel men. i should add the unions were just for the white workers. there were no union representation for the 35,000 or so black west indians. and earlier in the construction period the steam shovel men went on strike and the chief engineers took a hard stance against them and they said basically you're fired. there will be no strikes and so the unions represented some of
the skilled workers and they worked hard to represent them but the focused more on the lobbying in washington, d.c. and trying to make sure that congress passed the math to become measures that would support their work. >> some 35,000 or so west indian african descent workers, how many white americans work on the can now? >> about five or 6,000 white american men. they were skilled workers working as railroad engineers, conductors, firemen, machinists carpenters, that sort of thing. >> go back to the gold and;;; silver pay.;;;;;;; just the white workers would get paid in gold and the others would get paid in silver? what did that create? >> that created a system in the
canal that meant the white skilled workers on the gold were very much privileged workers that received higher pay than other workers. the hit, series built, they received weeks of vacation leave every year and a free steamship to get home to the united states. the silver workers on the other hand live in a fit of cafeterias. one guy who procurer of the food for the workers said we feed the silver workers just like i field duty to feed my hogs back in omaha. they have no feeding. they would have to sit under a porch in the rain.
so those radically different conditions, and use all evidence of the segregation system throughout. the u.s. built large commissary shops where the workers could buy with the needed and very reminiscent of jim crow in the u.s. with big signs on the two entrances, gold verses silver so in that way that sense of segregation and a kind of privilege dominated the canal. >> how many workers died building the canal? >> the statistics on that are tough to come up with. i think during the u.s. period the statistics are about 2,000 workers. historians know who had studied the subject believe that the mortality rate was quite a bit higher, and of course the mortality rate was coming and the injury rate was also very
race specific. the injuries and the deaf for much more likely to be among the west indians. when you finished your time on the construction without having made the entry or the illness you are a very lucky man. one of the things i found in the legal records in the zone stories that were injured west indians who went to the court to try to get payment for their injury. there is a sad story of a man who lost an eye. his name was cizik mackenzie from grenada, a 24-year-old who went to the canal to work and he got a job working on the
gigantic amazing what. he was hired to go down in sight of the cave and help direct what the white skilled workers would hammer and from the outside, and he wasn't sure he wanted the job because there were no lights down there and his sad story was revealed to me through these legal records. one day he went down in there and the skilled worker on the outside hammered in the screw and it didn't go in straight and they told him to go down there and help direct it and gets down close to wait and the white worker shouts watch out then and he shouts as he is taking his arm back to pound the hammer and the bolt goes through isaac
mackenzie, a horrible tragedy. what's interesting about isaac mackenzie though is that he went to court to demand payment for this accident. he demanded i think $10,000 for the court that said yes, the company was responsible for this injury but the court said you only lost one on a so your life will be okay and only award of $500. isaac mackenzie got a lawyer and to get all the way to the supreme court of the canal which didn't give him 10,000 but gave him a pretty hefty award for the young west indian man finding the company was responsible for the damages. so a story like that about isaac mackenzie gave me a way to understand the experiences.
they tend to be such a tough group to trace because they were not top officials, they were not writing reports, they were often the most erased and silent but cases like that help me see the west indians did strategizing. they did find ways to mobilize and use whatever resources they could to achieve. >> who ran the calzone, who was the authority? >> the united states government. >> under the zone authority took about the supreme court under the zone. >> there was a separate judicial system, but it was just part of the appellate court of the united states government. the chief engineer did have remarkable autonomy although he reported to the secretary of war
who was william howard taft. >> so george washington the essentially was the president of the canal zone in the sense? come he was a benevolent dictator. it was a very paternalistic system. he was admired by many in the zone because he did run things very efficiently. it was a very orderly's zone. he got it built minivan felt could be done. he prided himself on being a sort of fatherly figure to the workers, he would meet sunday morning with anyone who wished to meet with him from loneliest washerwoman to the elite supervisors, but his authority
as fatherly as he might be was complete. one of server said we all like the chief engineer but we know not to disagree with him or criticize him if we do disagree with him we get deport a fast. >> what would you say is the labor unrest and thinking about the auto strikes in the 30's and the founding of the uaw was their anything of what level? >> no, not really. it was an orderly zone. he was very strategic and effective at using things like deportation and a rescue and imprisonment to enhance productivity.
an executive order was passed by president roosevelt which gave complete authority to deport anyone not contributing productively to the construction project, so generally speaking workers found other ways besides the strikes except for those spaniards they were causing trouble throughout the construction a year of, but that was the key exception. as derrick with the needed? >> the spaniards? >> right. >> the more they protested, the less the government felt they were needed. and by the end, why 1911, 1912, the u.s. government stopped bringing in spaniards and gradually let them go because they were finding that the spaniards were more trouble.
>> we are talking with professor julie green at the university of maryland about her book making america's ny year at the canal. you talked about the archives. where were the archives you found on the panama canal? >> there was a fun part of the project discovering the archival sources. the biggest single source for information on the building of the canal was in college park maryland in the national archives. >> right here in the neighborhood. >> a tremendous amount of information there. i should say the national archives in the park and then also the national archives in downtown d.c. where the legal records of the zone where. i was the first historian to look at some of the sources like the legal records. it was amazing to look at those
because they shine a bright light into a range of activities that sometimes allegis legal activity sometimes civil disputes, divorce cases between husbands and wives everything from that to robbery and murder sometimes when i was looking at the legal records i would be opening evidence that had been returned and have literally never been opened. i was looking at probate records where they assessed the belongings of someone who was may be killed in the construction project and some workingman's personal set of keys would fall into my lap and i would find myself wondering what doors those keys once unlocked. so that was an amazing find for me. also did research and panama
it's also looking at records related to the riots that broke out between the u.s. canal employees and the police in the red light district. >> what was the relationship between the zone and the country of panama? >> the was a complicated relationship for the republic of panama into greenways the building was a tremendous beast of course. the united states government, in order to build the canal, conducted a lot of sanitation, the elimination of disease throughout panama built sewers. as of the u.s. did a lot of things were beneficial. at the same time panama bridle with a bit and the degree of
u.s. control and intervention the united states got quite involved in the elections whenever there were disturbances would send u.s. military there and one of the important role panama played especially in panama city was the u.s. tolerated the creation of the red light districts. bars, saloons, gambling, prostitution because officials knew his workers would need a kind of chance for escapes for letting off steam sort of as a safety valve and so these red light district became a during the important part, the sort of disorderly counterpart to the orderly world of the canal zone and as employees and military personnel from the u.s. dominated the zones would go to
let off steam in the city a lot of times there would be trouble. the u.s. folks were known for causing trouble for getting drunk some times, and as a result sometimes fighting in the riots would break out between the two groups. >> helpless about the city of balboa to respond to the city of gilboa was created by the u.s. to house the administration. it was a very lovely talent. then nd the two images i remember depict this very much as a town that represents the usn player and shows off the pride of the u.s. and having created the canal as a sort of
pure less leader of civilization. >> large differences in the living conditions between the skilled white workers and the others? >> quite large, yes. the u.s. is very proud of its work in creating a sense ofñ civilization, respectability for the white workers and their wives. many thousands of working men's wives traveled to the zone to keep house for their husband and so in the u.s. encouraged that because it felt the presence of housewives would make it feel not like a labor camp or transient but respectable and civilized said the u.s. encouraged clients to go and once it encouraged lives to go it needed to be sure the conditions were decent enough.
>> end of the conditions for the -- >> for the west indian workers was very different, very much. very often windows without screens in an environment where mosquitos could spread malaria. not to have screens on the window would be a very remarkable thing. one of the photos in my book shows stagnant water which again is going to breed mosquitos carrying the disease. so yes, the conditions for the west indian workers was very different from the white skilled workers and yet the thing is the west indian workers found their lives and approved by the work they did in the zone the living
standards it was pretty bad but if you compare it to what they faced back in barbados or mexico was not in the adventure for them the chance to improve their lives many of them were able to save money or send money home and studies have shown many of the workers as a result of their labor for the u.s. were able to buy some land and become self-sufficient back in their home island. >> what kind of medical care to the workers get? >> there were fast hospitals it was very advanced medical care for the time and necessary because it continued throughout the u.s. procrit was a big danger to the construction project and the yellow fever
were under control malaria continued and pneumonia. pneumonia was a huge problem. was said that pretty much every west indian at some point dealt with pneumonia or malaria and had to spend some time in the hospital. and so, the role of the medical record, the doctors and nurses was quite important. >> how much was reported back here in the united states about labor unrest or death in the canal zone, did you find evidence that there was fair reporting or was it pretty well-off? >> that's a great question. ..
that in the canal zone scandal and corruption was taking over. theodore roosevelt decided immediately that he needed to go to the canal zone to answer these charges. and so it was actually the first time in the united states history that a sitting president had left the territory of the united states. he got on a ship with his wife, went to the canal zone to tour everything, sat in the steam shovel, one of the most famous p presidential photographs ever taken. he trooped all about the canal zone, marched through the mud and rain with an army of journalists following him. and that really was the beginning of the sort of boosterrist notion that we across the 20th century and still today associate with the
canal project. theodore roosevelt was a master, a brilliant master at creating favorable public opinion. >> what kind of role did congress have during the construction phase? were they overseeing it? were they watching it pretty carefully? >> yes, congress did play an important role. even though, as i said, the government in the canal zone was quite autonomous and had a great deal of power, congress was watching it. there was a lot of money at stake, and congress would carry out regular investigations into conditions, had power to oversee and pass pay raises for the skilled workers, that sort of thing. >> how much did it cost in the end? >> gosh, you know, i'm not exactly sure of the figures. i'm thinking $100 million maybe? >> 100 million back in the day. and do you know what that translate into today?
>> no, huh-uh. >> and finally, julie greene, what's the picture on the front of your book, "the canal builders"? >> the picture shows the spectacular lock gates during the construction period. i love the image because it evokes both the single man standing at the top, evokes the sort of triumph list notion of the canal, the idea that it's about the peerless individual struggles of a few great men. but the fact that you see a larger work force there at the bottom suggests the sort of, the vast number of men whose labor was really important to the project. >> and we've been talking with university of maryland professor julie greene about her book, "the canal builders: making america's empire at the panama canal." it's published by penguin, and photographer greene is a professor of -- professor greene is